The Power of Point of View

Perspective Criticism in the Classroom

by GARY YAMASAKI   This past semester, I was approached to teach a seminary course that provides a survey of the various different ways the Bible has been interpreted during the past couple of centuries. And, naturally, I thought of “Perspective Criticism” as one of the methodologies to include in this survey. Given all that I needed to cover in the course, I couldn’t justify devoting any more than a single class session to Perspective Criticism; therefore, I did not think it appropriate to have my Perspective Criticism: Point of View and Evaluative Guidance in Biblical Narrative as one of the required textbooks for the course. And though the institution for whom I was teaching the course did have a copy of Perspective Criticismin in its library, this was an online course, meaning there was no guarantee that all students enrolling in the course would have library access to this book.

As I pondered this challenge, I came to realize that I could use this Perspective Criticism blog as an online resource for introducing the student to this interpretive methodology. So, I decided to formulate something of a “guided tour” through the site, designed to have the students begin with basic information on point-of-view crafting, then lead them into a look at some of the more accessible components of point-of-view analysis, and have them finish off by doing a perspective-critical analysis themselves.

This worked well as a means for introducing this new biblical methodology to these students for the purposes of the online course I was teaching. However, upon reflection, I have come to realize that this could work equally well in a conventional face-to-face course exploring different ways of interpreting the Bible; in place of readings from the course textbooks, a class session on this methodology could have as its required reading a selection of posts from the Perspective Criticism blog.

The remainder of the present post consists of an outline of the blog posts I used in the crafting of a unit on Perspective Criticism for the course I taught.


Post 1: provides a general overview of point-of-view crafting in storytelling, including an explanation of the workings of “point of view” in biblical narrative passages: (‘Perspective Criticism’: Everything you never realized you wanted to know about ‘Point of View’)

Post 2: uses a scene from the “Jesus Film” to illustrate how biblical authors are capable of having their readers “view” (in their mind’s eye) a scene from one vantage point as opposed to a different vantage point: (What Luke 24:51 is NOT trying to depict)

Post 3: describes the significance of a biblical writer using point-of-view crafting to provide the readers with a “subjective” experience of a character, as opposed to an “objective” experience: (Who says, “You have to be objective”? Not biblical storytellers!)

The next three posts introduce three “planes” on which point of view functions, setting out specific “textual features” used to manipulate point of view on these three planes:

Post 4: covers the “spatial” plane: (‘Why do we pull for Jesus in the gospels?’ – One Unexpected Reason)

Post 5: covers the “psychological” plane: (Does Abram have Sarai claim she is his sister (Gen 12:13) as a ploy to obtain wealth? A look at point of view on the ‘Psychological Plane‘)

Post 6: covers the “informational” plane: (Who Knew What When? Meir Sternberg’s Informational Axis and the Four Leprous Men of Samaria (2 Kgs 7:3-5)

Then the students are provided with four more posts that build upon matters introduced in the first six posts:

Post 7: expands on the “objective vs. subjective” dichotomy introduced in Post 3: (Point-of-view crafting as the engine that drives ‘Anti-Hero’ movies)

Post 8: expands on the treatment of the “spatial” plane in Post 4: (Using ‘John the Baptist’ as Test Subject for New Spatial-Plane Development)

Post 9: expands on the coverage of the “psychological” plane in Post 5: (An Invitation to Dig Deeper into the Psychological Dynamics of Point of View)

Post 10: provides more on the “informational” plane introduced in Post 6: (Synching Minds: ‘Butch Cassidy’ and the Informational Plane of Point of View)

At this point, the students are invited to try their hand at conducting a perspective-critical analysis on their own. They are to work through John 20:11-16 (“Mary at the Tomb”) verse-by-verse (even “phrase-by-phrase”), watching for “textual features” that indicate something is happening in the point-of-view crafting. After they have finished recording their findings, they are then to determine which points contribute toward the reader having a subjective experience of Mary, and which contribute toward the reader having an objective experience. Then, they are to trace the swings between “subjective experience” and “objective experience” through the passage.

Finally, the students are directed to read a blog post setting out a perspective-critical analysis of this passage: (How Perspective Criticism Actually Works (demonstrated by an SBL paper on the point-of-view crafting of Mary at the Tomb in John 20))



Categorised in: FEATURE, TEACHING point of view

2 Responses »

  1. Yes, blog posts offer a neat way to encapsulate quickly ideas we want students to ‘get’, I use some of my 5 minute Bible podcasts that way, and have a string of ‘how to’ posts on study techniques ( that I am ‘forever’ pointing students to in my comments on their assignments!

    • Pointing students to these blog posts was a good way to communicate some of the basics. I appreciate the affirmation from your own experience, and thank you for posting your link.

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